6 Aug 2023
MP3 media (Vigil)
MP3 media (7:30am)
Sometimes we have an experience that was so sublime, so magical, so amazing – that we struggle to even share all its details with a close friend. Even when it is photographed, and videoed, and instagrammed to within a millimetre of its life, some things can defy simple, adequate descriptions. Maybe the event wasn’t even all that weird or far out – but all the elements came together in a way that you know that mere words or photos are just not going to come close to even beginning to share the full impact of what transpired in those incredible days or moments.
I suspect that the event that we listen to today from Matthew 17 is like this – only a thousand times more amazing. When the different gospel writers attempt to describe what happened – and even more so to share the emotional and spiritual impact of what happened that amazing day – they are struggling at the limits of human language.
We are told that Jesus is transfigured before them – literally, in the Greek language, he writes that Jesus is meta’morphosed (meta=change; morphe=form, so a change of form, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly). When the disciples look at Jesus, he glows with a transcendent glory that is reserved for the heavenly beings. Jesus is joined in this splendour with Moses and Elijah – not only to represent the “Law and the Prophets” – but because they were both prophets who were rejected by the people; advocated for God, the covenant and the Torah; worked miracles and ultimately were vindicated by God as representatives of the heavenly world.
We need to look at this moment in the life of Jesus in the light of two other events – we look back to the Baptism (when the exact same words are spoken over Jesus – “This is my Son, the Beloved, he enjoys my favour.”) Yet we must also look forward to another mountain – to Calvary. We celebrate the Transfiguration on this day (6 August) because it is 40 days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (which commemorates the day that St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, found the ‘true cross’, on 14 September around 326)
We are invited to meditate upon the transformation scene – by holding and contrasting in your mind the scene of Calvary and the crucifixion of Jesus. Here on a mountain-top in Galilee, Jesus is revealed in glory; there, on the hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed in shame. Here, his clothes are shining bright; there his clothing has been stripped by the soldiers. Here, he is flanked by Moses and Elijah as two of Israel’s greatest heroes; there, he is flanked by two brigands, as a sign of how far Israel had fallen as a result of its rebellion against God. Here, a bright cloud overshadows the scene; there, darkness falls upon the land. Here Peter cries out about how wonderful it all is; there, Peter hides in shame after denying the Lord. Here the voice of God booms from the cloud declaring that Jesus is my beloved son; there, it is left to a pagan Roman soldier to declare in surprise that this really was God’s son.
The word ‘transformed’ that St Mark and St Matthew use to describe this scene is used twice more in the New Testament, by Paul. But he doesn’t use the word to describe what happens to Jesus. He uses it to describe what is possible in our own lives.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,Romans 12:2
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,2 Corinthians 3:18
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Perhaps this moment of glory can only be appreciated and understood when we can also see the glory of the cross. The three disciples who accompanied Jesus to that high place that day – Peter, James and John – were rightly surprised by the sublime power, love and beauty of God. But we also need to discover a way to recognise that same power, love and beauty in the voice of Jesus when he calls us each day to take up our cross and follow him as disciples.